NDN Blog

The Virtual World of Second Life Becomes Real for Politics

This week I gave the strangest talk I have ever given, and it had nothing to do with what I said. It had to do with where I was. I was inside a virtual three-dimensional world, in the online game called Second Life.

The gathered group was made up of Netroots activists from all over the country who were gathering in this virtual setting, on the edge of a grassy hilly, on an island. They each were represented by an avatar, which can look like a person, but can also be made to look like animal-like beings too. There was a billboard with an agenda, and stumps to sit on, and free tee-shirts to wear. But it was all inside an interactive game. The talk was done through typing like in a chat room, with my words coming out line by line and others chiming in over my central narrative.

It this all seems like too much, then brace yourself. It probably will start to get more traction in politics in the coming years. After all, the private sector business world is going ga-ga over Second Life right now. There has been a flurry of mainstream news stories, several prominent ones in the New York Times, the cover of BusinessWeek, and the Reuters newswire has assigned a permanent reporter to cover what is going on in there.

The reason for all the attention is that Second Life now has more than 1.3 members and as much as $400,000 a day in real money changing hands through buying and selling in this virtual world. In fact, any of you can join for free and try it out in no time at all. Just go there and sign up.

And so, like the other media tools that have been pioneered and developed in the private sector, politics will follow into these virtual worlds too. In fact, I think gaming will become a significant area for politics in the next couple years, following in the footsteps of viral video, mobile media, and social networking. But more about that later. For now, go check it out.

Peter Leyden

Will the Wisdom of the Crowds compete with Polling?

There was a very interesting political experiment initiated before the election by a group in the San Francisco bay area to tap what has been labeled “the wisdom of the crowds,” after the bestseller by James Surowiecki.

Well in advance of the election, Predict06 asked the general web community to make educated predictions about who would win any of the US House and Senate seats that truly were in play. It started out tilting towards the Republicans because some conservative bloggers and online groups first began to take part. But as the progressive blogosphere and netroots types learned about it, the predictions evened up. On the eve of the election, it was looking pretty interesting…..

The results? A full 84,501 predictions were made and the predicted results were amazingly close to the actual results. The predicted Senate was 50/50. The actual Senate, 51 Dems to 49 Republicans. The predicted House: 231 Dems to 204 Republicans, with the D’s picking up 28 seats The actual was: 229 to 196, with the D’s taking 30.

You have to wonder whether this experiment could be refined in successive cycles to evolve into a pretty accurate tool that might compete with the current generation of public opinion polling. At the very least, this is a tool that is worth playing around with. Check it out:

Peter Leyden

The immigration battle: much to be proud of, much to do

Of all the stories coming out of the 2006 elections one of the most consequential now appears to be the extraordinary failure of the Republican party to turn immigration into a political weapon against the Democrats.

On every level the right wing anti-immigration campaign was a political failure. Despite millions of dollars spent on the ground and on the air, it failed to dent Democratic candidates. National anti-immigrant leaders like Arizona’s JD Hayworth and Randy Graff lost. The anti-immigration campaigners riled up the electorate about a vexing national problem and then offering no coherent solution. It has caused a tremendous, and potentially historic, backlash with Latinos, the fastest growing part of the American electorate. And, by failing, it has created significant bi-partisan momentum for comprehensive immigration reform, the very legislative initiative they relentlessly attacked.

I am extremely proud of the role NDN and its members played in hanging tough against the 18 month Republican onslaught. When the hardliners began their offensive against the sensible bipartisan McCain-Kennedy bill last year, we all swung into action. NDN was proud to be a leading member of the national comprehensive immigration reform coalition, led by the National Immigration Forum that includes the Catholic Church, several major labor unions, the Chamber of Commerce and many immigrant-rights groups.

NDN, now a 501 c(4) advocacy organization, did what advocacy organizations do. We held events, talked to the media, lobbied members of Congress, wrote blog posts, and sent emails. We launched a big effort to reach out to Spanish language media, including sending out a daily national Spanish-language email cataloguing the work of the anti-immigrant forces. Along with our partners we ran several hard-hitting national Spanish-language media campaigns, ensuring that Latino voters knew who was on their side. All told NDN and the NDN Political Fund spent well over $2 million on this effort over the past 18 months, money I hope all of you will feel was well spent. 

The voters told the story of how this battle played out. After years of trending Republican the national Latino vote swung very heavily towards the Democrats. In 1996 the D/R split for the Latino vote was 76/21. In 2000 it was 64/35, and in 2004 59/40. But in 2006 it was 69/30, a dramatic reversal. It is clear that immigration debate crossed a line. It was seen not as anti-immigrant but anti-Hispanic. The result was a degraded Republican brand, and record turnout in the Hispanic community. Election exit polls showed a huge jump in voting, with Hispanics making up around eight percent of the total vote, a record midterm turnout tide that even matched voting levels in the 2004 Presidential election.

The Republicans are now facing a moment where their hope of building a new 21st century majority is in peril. For years Bush and Rove understood that Latinos were essential to their future.  White House pollster Matthew Dowd repeatedly said prior to the 2004 elections that unless the GOP received 40% of the national Latino vote they could not win national elections. They got this magic 40% in 2004. But going into 2008 they now start at least 10 points down from their strategic goal.

But Democrats looking ahead should not take this new Latino opportunity for granted.  This vote has swung a great deal in recent years and could swing again. The White House and the RNC will be doing everything they can – from giving an Oval Office address on immigration as Bush did earlier this year to appointing a bilingual Cuban immigrant to be the leader of their Party – to reverse this dramatic decline. 

For Democrats, the single most important thing they can do to lock in this advantage is to not fumble the opportunity to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2007.  The lesson of 2006 should be that the Party that failed to deliver for this community paid dearly at the polls. 

After the hopes of Latinos have been raised this year, Democrats simply must answer and work together with the President and Senator John McCain to do what they were given control of Congress to do – tackle the tough problems of the day.  Passing comprehensive immigration reform will be one of those things that must get done in 2007. We will be working hard with leaders of both parties to get it done.  

This debate over immigration could come to be seen as one of the truly transformational issues coming out of this election. Everyone involved in the campaign worked hard to win this vital battle. I want to thank all of them, and everyone in the wider NDN community, for helping to make this happen. And I hope you will continue to support our work on this crucial issue in the future. 


Read more about NDN's ongoing role in the immigration debate:

"Latinos throw more support at Democrats"
"The nation's divide reemerges"
"Hispanic Is Expected to Be the Next Political Face of the G.O.P."
"Vote Is a Blow to Republican Pursuit of Hispanics"
NPR: Immigration Logjam May Break with New Congress
NPR: Both Parties See Upside to Immigration Issue

Webb on Globalization

Jim Webb, it seems, is not content being a decent man, a fine campaigner, a hero to the Democratic party and a refreshingly authoritative voice on security issues. Today he moves forward on the part of his campaign that discussed economic fairness with an impressive and articulate article in the Wall St Journal. I understood from others, and from his background as an author, that Webb could write. Nonetheless its impressive to see a sitting politician put out something that looks like its been written by a talented human being, rather than (at best) a cautious team of trained operatives or (at worst) a less than infinite number of monkeys.


Up to now, most American workers have simply been worried about their job prospects. Once they understand that there are (and were) clear alternatives to the policies that have dislocated careers and altered futures, they will demand more accountability from the leaders who have failed to protect their interests. The "Wal-Marting" of cheap consumer products brought in from places like China, and the easy money from low-interest home mortgage refinancing, have softened the blows in recent years. But the balance point is tipping in both cases, away from the consumer and away from our national interest. The politics of the Karl Rove era were designed to distract and divide the very people who would ordinarily be rebelling against the deterioration of their way of life. Working Americans have been repeatedly seduced at the polls by emotional issues such as the predictable mantra of "God, guns, gays, abortion and the flag" while their way of life shifted ineluctably beneath their feet. But this election cycle showed an electorate that intends to hold government leaders accountable for allowing every American a fair opportunity to succeed.

I don't agree with all that he says. The picture of american inequality isn't as bleak as he claims. The chances of "political unrest" are far fetched. His paragraph on genetics strikes an odd, unlikely tone. He is light (read: empty) on ideas to fix the problems he cites. And the populist tone of his campaign gives the hint that the suggestions to which he warms would not be those that NDN would endorse. Nonetheless the thrust of his argument is sound, and his last line - that "government leaders have no greater duty than to confront the growing unfairness in this age of globalization." - is welcome for highlighting the central role that globalization must play in any sensible progressive politics of the future. Bottom Line: can you imagine George Allen saying anything half this sharp? Frankly, The more i see of Senator Webb, the more i like. I'm off to find 7000 Virginians to thank.

Winning in the West

"The West is growing," said Senator-elect Jon Tester, "It's where the action is."



In Newsweek, Howard Fineman describes how the old narrative of North-South, Mason Dixon, the solid South, etc. is changing--and the West is at the forefront. With the Tester win in Montana last week, the opportunity for Democrats to stake a claim in the region is growing.  (On a side note, who would have thought that Montana would have two Democratic Senators?)

We have a lot to gain from looking westward. According to our very own Simon Rosenberg, quoted in the article, "It's our 21st-century-majority strategy."

Mulling the Impact of Tech Tools on the election

I’m in an all-day meeting in San Francisco at Working Assets where progressives from around the country are comparing notes on what tools worked in the 2006 campaign. (New fellow Michael Kieschnick is the head of Working Assets and running the show.) Many of them are nuts and bolts tools that helped voters register, or identified progressive voters and got out the vote, but many groups tried to experiment on new media tools too.

I was at the first of a series of RootsCamp conferences this weekend in San Francisco too. This was a gathering of Netroots and blogger types who are leveraging a “new tool” of sorts in the form of a new kind of “unconference” called “barcamps.” These are self-organizing conferences that came out of the Silicon Valley tech scene, and are described here. But they have been adopted for political purposes by the Netroots crowd in the form of rootscamp. The regional barcamps will culminate in a big gathering in DC on Dec. 2-3 where Simon and I will be speaking too.

In the meantime, many places are compiling their own lists of what worked best in this cycle. Just today the Personal Technology Forum came up with a list that is worth perusing. The Forum’s executive director, Micah L. Sifry, is going to be driving yet another all-day post-election gathering in San Francisco this Friday that I will be attending too.

The lessons of best practices as well as disasters are coming together in various ways and the New Politics Institute hopes to do our own gathering in DC in early December that will lay out what we are finding. Stay tuned.

Peter Leyden

Mayhem over Mel?

In his statement yesterday, Simon noted that the appointment of Florida Senator Mel Martinez as RNC Chair shines light on just how much Republicans are worried about their standing with Latino voters. The press chimed in, hitting the ground running early on. The Washington Times gave us two great quotes with this piece:

Some RNC members greeted the news as another example of White House cronyism, reminiscent of President Bush's attempt to name his personal friend and general counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, a nomination withdrawn in response to outrage from the party's conservative supporters.

Some RNC members yesterday saw the naming of Mr. Martinez as a continuing tendency of the Bush administration to manipulate the national party.

NDN's own Joe Garcia added the following in the Miami Herald:

''This is not only [about the] Hispanic vote short-term, this is about the Hispanic vote and how to be a viable party in the future. This is way beyond 2008. Hispanics are the fastest growing electorate and [Republicans] have been failing it.''

And Simon was quoted in Reuters and the New York Times, pointing out that the appointment brings to light the concern Republicans have that their gains within the Latino community are diminishing. Referring to Karl Rove, he notes:

“One of the greatest success stories of the early Rove era was their success with Latino voters, the president’s chief political strategist. “And that has unraveled for them this year.”

It's not looking too great for the GOP; and it gets worse, as their reaction shows...

Simon's statement on Mel Martinez

Be sure to read the statement below from Simon about Florida Senator Mel Martinez being tapped to Chair the RNC.


"The appointment of Mel Martinez as the new head of the Republican Party is an indication of how worried the Republicans are about their standing with Latino voters across the country.

After years of gains with Latinos, the fastest growing part of the American electorate, the Republicans saw a significant drop in their standing in 2006. In 2004 President Bush received at least 40 percent of the Latino vote. In this midterm it fell to 30 percent, a significant and dangerous drop.

While Latinos had the same reasons to vote against Republicans in 2006 as the rest of America, there is no question that many Latinos have grown disenchanted with the Republican Party because of what they felt was the Republican-led anti-Latino tone of the immigration debate.

If they were truly serious about rehabilitating their standing with Latinos, one area they should think about is working with Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid to take quick action on passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform next year.

Appointing Mel Martinez may help Republicans communicate their message to the Spanish-speaking electorate. But it will take a change in policy not a change in personnel to win back a community that has grown terribly disenchanted with the President and his party."


History Today

I’ve been reading all of the “Good News” about the Democrats since the election. Okay. So the Democrats have won. We are now in power. This is history in the making. Speaking of “History”, let me give you a little history about me. When Martin Luther King gave his famous “I have a Dream” speech, I was only 18 years old. Today I witnessed another historic event at the ground breaking for the Martin Luther King Monument - the first for a person of color and the first for a non-President. There were a vast variety of speakers: politicians (including our President and our former President, Bill Clinton), celebrities, news casters, and businessman.

Needless to say, I know every one on that stage today did NOT share “LOVE” for each other; but I saw people of all races and ethnicities in the audience. Everyone was talking and smiling, sharing towels to wipe off the wet seats for each other, sharing umbrellas, cameras, and binoculars. I say all of this to make a point: everyone was showing a positive attitude. If we (Democrats and Republicans) would all put forth a positive attitude, put aside our personal differences and do what is BEST for this country, what a GREAT people we would be! Think about it!!!!

Syndicate content